Paolo Patruno: The Maternity Project in Africa

A social documentary photographer with a continuos “Mal D’Afrique”.

Paolo Patruno is from Bologna, Italy, but the constant recall to Africa, where he has been traveling since 2001 to collaborate with several NGOs, has ignited the passion he always had for photography. In 2011, he spent six months in Malawi to work with an NGO where he met an English midwife, Rachel MacLeod who was working in the hospital of the capital, and she exposed him to the problems and challenges of maternity health and mortality issues that several countries in Africa face. Patruno’s mission has become to use his pictures to inform, educate and bring awareness.

Safe motherhood Malawi Safe motherhood Malawi

Even though I had gone to Africa for ten years, I had no idea that this was the reality of the situation. - Patruno says.

After visiting public and private hospitals as well as facilities in the rural areas of Malawi first and then Uganda and Congo, he realized how many women suffer from giving birth and how it can be fatal and complex in some cases. Patruno felt the need to push this to the next level, after realizing that this theme was not known or talked about by many organizations. In a continent where women are the roots of society, losing mothers before or after they give birth highly affects families and communities. He started collecting pictures in Malawi and in his following trips to Uganda and Congo and he showed those shots to the men of the communities where he worked.

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 “I asked them how they would have reacted if the women in those pictures shown to the public were their wives. I wanted to know if  it could have bothered them. Their response was that even if the images are strong, there was a lot of dignity in those photographed women and the project  was showing them a theme that nobody talks about and that people need to be aware of.”

 Once you see Paolo Patruno’s work, it is difficult to look at social photography in the same way again. His eye is very respectful and shows women in a very delicate but also direct way. His camera is never intrusive yet it is present and the portraits of these beautiful African women show every aspect of maternity: the before, the after and everything in between among joy, pain, compassion, life and death, the light and the dark. It feels almost like breathing the cycle of life.

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“After seeing the reaction of many people looking at my pictures, I realized that there is a lot of ignorance and there are certain worlds that are not known at all. That is where I found the drive to do this kind of photography. Information is my main goal. - Patruno says.

It started as a photographic reportage but Birth Is A Dream became a short documentary after Patruno collected videos as well during his trips and the idea of multimedia project became more and more concrete.

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 “When I started shooting, I knew already I would have combined video and still images together with a predominant and emotional sound editing. Seeing these pictures in a gallery doesn’t have the same impact than watching them in a short documentary. The emotional message is stronger.

His award winning short documentary Birth Is A Dream has gone viral on YouTubeo with more than 300,000 views  and it was one of the finalist for the Social Impact Media Awards 2013, besides being featured on National Geographic and CNN and many more publications.


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The idea of creating a multimedia project for each one of his trips, has brought Patruno to shoot and edit I Want To Be A Midwife, a more educational video realized in  Ethiopia in collaboration with Amref Canada. An important work shows once again how necessary the work of humanitarian and documentary photographers  is.

 “On a human level, I want the women that I photograph to understand why I am there, why I am taking those pictures. In my last trip I was in Ethiopia for three days and only after an hour, all the medical personnel was very helpful and making my job easy because I had explained them what my mission was.


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Patruno says the biggest satisfaction came from a message he received on Facebook from a Kenyan woman that after watching Birth Is A Dream, started a project to educate and help women on what to do during their pregnancy and after the maternity. Being a father himself, Patruno knows how educational his images are and he wants to keep creating series of informative videos to facilitate the access to data and pieces of information that in many cases can benefit organizations and local communities to find concrete solutions for this underestimated topic, as well as the general public to spread the awareness about the maternity issue in several countries of Africa.



See Paolo Patruno’s Website and Facebook Page for more info.



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